3rd Sunday in Advent

  1. Advent 3.20 “How Christ is Confessed” John 1:6-8, 19-28

Confession is a tricky thing, we learn today from St. John the Baptizer (first rabbit trail: I kind of hate it when he’s called “the Baptist” John would hate being lumped in with the Baptists because they don’t baptize everyone like he did, nor do they confess the supernatural divine power of Baptism as he did, nor do they confess the full deity of the Man Jesus Christ as John and the ancient creeds do; also Baptists deny the true Presence and Power of Jesus in His Holy Supper as John never would have. Other than those minor points, I like the Baptists a lot. But John, who is pickier and pricklier than I am, if he were joining a church today, would undoubtedly be John the Lutheran as our church baptizes, communes, and proclaims the full deity of Jesus as he does. Also “Baptizer” is a better translation of the Greek. It’s an action word, not a passive label).

But, as we were saying, confession is a tricky, yet vitally important, thing, as Jesus declares in Matthew 10:32: “Whoever confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven (rabbit trail #2: the Greek word ομολογεω is very unsatisfactorily translated as “confess”. Actually, I slightly prefer what the ESV does with the word over the King James. The ESV says “acknowledge” (in Matthew 10) which is better than “confess” because “confess” to us today sounds like you’re admitting you did something terrible. But here in John 1, the ESV translates ομολογεω as “confess” which keeps you from seeing it’s the same thing Jesus proclaims in Matthew 10 as the hinge on which eternal life or death turns. ομολογεω is a compound Greek word: homo which means “same” and logos which means “word”; literally, “same-word”. To ομολογεω Jesus is to say the same as He says: about Himself, about ourselves, about life, death, heaven, hell, cross, tomb, world, love, hate, courage, fear, etc. To say other than Jesus says is to deny Him; it is shutting yourself out of heaven—according to Jesus’ rather stark saying in Matthew 10 about heaven or hell hanging on the good confession. (!!!)

So, to make the good “confession” is literally to same-say Jesus—repeat Him—which is an eternal life or death matter. And John shows us this morning in our Gospel that it’s a lot easier said than done (see what I did there? “To say the same is easier said…? Nevermind. If you have to explain it 🙁

How does John show us the difficulty of making the good confession of Jesus? Well, simply put: because the three questions he’s asked by the priests and Levites: “Are you the Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet?” could all be answered “Yes!” just as easily, perhaps even, strictly speaking, more accurately (as humans judge accuracy in these things) than answering [a Christian Bale Batman] “No!” to all three (as John does!). And since John the Gospel-writer says that it was only by answering“No!” to all three questions (that could as easily have been answered “Yes!”) that’s why I’m saying this vitally important business of “confessing” Jesus is tricky. Degree of difficulty? 9.9!

Let’s consider each question and see how “Yes” can be a more strictly accurate answer than “No”. First: “are you the Christ?” (This seems a tough case to make—that “Yes” is a more accurate answer—until you come with me down rabbit trail #3: For us today, “Christ” is simply Jesus’ last name: “Bueller? Bueller? Christ? Christ?” or a synonym for “God’s Son”. But actually, the Greek word χριστος translates the Hebrew messiah which literally means “anointed”. There are lots of “anointed” ones, lots of christs in the Bible. Aaron and the rest of Israel’s priests are christs. David and all the Kings of Judah after him are christs. Baptism itself is called an anointing, a “Christing”, which is why the old word for Baptism “christening” is actually more accurate. “When I look around this room, I see nothing but christs! You’re a christ, you’re a christ…” This is actually how the word would have been used and understood in 1st century Israel: anointed, christened by God’s Spirit for a special role in His Kingdom—and John certainly was that! In Luke 1, we hear how, when Mary came to tell Elizabeth the angel’s message concerning her unborn child, John (three months before birth!) leaped in his mother Elizabeth’s womb and filled her with the Holy Spirit—which means the unborn John must already have been anointed with that same Holy Spirit that he could fill his mother with the Holy Spirit).

So, “are you the anointed one?” is a tricky question. Yes, John is definitely one of the most powerfully anointed, christened ones in Israel’s history. But, John rightly hears the emphasis is on the Anointed one—the capital “c” Christ, the Lord God Himself in the flesh. So, he rightly answers No! I am not the Christ”. (Rabbit Trail #4: the Greek εγω οuκ ειμι is cool because εγω ειμι I AM are the first 2 words of the Divine Name “I AM WHO I AM” and John sticks a no in the middle of those “I not AM the Christ” sounding extremely Yoda-like to my ear 🙂

The second question “Are you Elijah?” is even more oddly answered “No!”. Because Jesus clearly says, coming down from the transfiguration mountain (where Elijah and Moses have appeared) that John the Lutheran-Baptizer is Elijah, the promised forerunner! But John hears their question as to whether he is Elijah the Tishbite, the man who was taken alive into heaven in a fiery chariot in the 9th century BC. John’s not him, but comes in the spirit and power of Elijah. That is, Elijah’s mantle fits John best—better than the 9th century BC Elijah!

And finally, trickiest one of all: “Are you the prophet?” The ESV oddly capitalizes “Prophet”, but remember: Greek has no such convention of using capital letters like that. And Jesus Himself says in Matthew 11 that John is not only a prophet, but the greatest one of all those guys! So, how can John say “No!” to the prophet question?” Because again, he hears them asking if he is the Final Prophet of whom Moses spoke in Deuteronomy 18:15 “The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from among you—it is to him you shall listen…” But even there it is not obvious this prophet is divine. We only get that from hearing Jesus, faithfully…

See how tricky it is to confess, to say the same as Jesus says on everything? Roh-oh Scoob! How could we ever get this right, [maybe, rite, (sic)?].

Well, John the Gospel-writer tells us in his 1st Epistle: “But you have been anointed [christened!] by the Holy One… and the anointing that you received from him… teaches you about everything!” (I Jn. 2:20, 27). Simply put, Baptism, as John gave it (and Jesus supercharged it with His Triune Name 🙂 teaches us all we need to give the rite [sic] response to everything…

    St. John (the Lutheran’s 🙂 Baptism is the key; this is the Way to the Good Confession, Life Eternal.

Baptism gives you ears to hear Jesus only; distrusting our own wisdom and sense. If only we hear by the ears God gives us by His Word/Sacraments, we simply cannot be deceived! Yes, even “out of the mouth of babes” God will perfect His praise.

By His Word going in your ears now, by His Body and Blood going into your mouths, you are Christ-ed too, to same-say Him, now, always—to His glory and your joy. In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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